How to grow herbs, plus the best way to store them once you've picked them

23 February 2020 - 00:00 By Bauersyndication.com.au/Magazinefeatures.co.za
Fresh herbs make a beautiful and useful addition to the garden.
Fresh herbs make a beautiful and useful addition to the garden.
Image: Bauersyndication.com.au/Magazinefeatures.co.za

Gardening is a safe way to keep busy while in self-isolation and a few freshly picked herbs will elevate any meal to gourmet heights. 

Luckily most are are simple and easy to grow whether in the garden or in pots.

Most garden nurseries — and some supermarkets — offer a selection of potted herbs, so select your favourites to take them home once your garden bed or pot has been prepared. You may also find seed packets at some grocery stores.

KNOW YOUR HERBS

Herbs are usually considered to be the leaves of a plant, where as spices come from the bark, roots, berries and seeds of plants.

Here's a visual list of 20 popular herbs, plus the best way to cook with them:

WHERE TO PLANT THEM

All herbs like to be grown in an area of the garden that gets at least four to six hours of sunshine a day.

They like medium to light (sandy) soil that has good drainage. This means that when it's been raining, or the garden has been watered, the soil is capable of allowing excess moisture to drain away rather than collecting around the roots of the plants.

Gardeners say that herbs don't like having wet feet, and this defines the conditions that must be created to keep them growing strong and healthy. If your soil contains a lot of clay, dig loads of compost into the garden bed before planting.

Most herbs are simple and easy to grow. They don't need to be watered daily and they also don't require much fertiliser or manure.

GROWING HERBS IN ...

THE GARDEN

Some herbs are shrubby plants, such as rosemary and sage; others are trees, like bay; there are perennials which grow all year round, such as oregano, marjoram and thyme; and some are annuals (grow for only one season), such as basil and coriander. You can plant them all together in a special area of the garden, creating a lovely aromatic herb bed.

When planting a herb garden, place the taller growing plants (bay, rosemary, sage) towards the back and place the medium and smaller herbs towards the front. Thyme and oregano make a lovely front border.

RAISED HERB BEDS

Improve soil drainage by building up a garden bed, especially for growing herbs. Use rocks, bricks or railway sleepers as an edging, then put in barrow loads of your own compost or bags of good garden mix from the nursery, mixed together with the soil. This is the perfect environment for planting herbs.

Many varieties of herbs can be successfully grown in pots.
Many varieties of herbs can be successfully grown in pots.
Image: Bauersyndication.com.au/Magazinefeatures.co.za

POTS

Herbs can also be grown in containers.

Terracotta pots create a wonderful environment for herbs because they are porous - so the soil doesn't stay too damp after watering.

You can also get troughs that are ideal for growing three or four different herbs together; position these on a sunny kitchen windowsill where the herbs are handy for picking while you are cooking.

RECYCLED CONTAINERS

Make your own pots out of recycled milk cartons, newspaper or small plastic containers (poke drainage holes in the bottom).

Another great idea is to use small pots made from decomposed vegetable matter. These are 100% bio-degradable and organic, which means that the pots and seedlings can be transplanted together into the garden bed. Planting this way stops the plant's fragile roots from being disturbed, preventing transplant shock.

HOW TO STORE FRESHLY-PICKED HERBS

Place bunches of herbs into a glass of water overnight, away from heat.

If you plan to keep them longer, wrap a piece of folded paper towel around the end of the stems, wet it, then enclose the herbs loosely in a plastic bag and refrigerate. (To store basil, place the leaves in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the top. Don't put it into the fridge as it will quickly blacken and shrivel.)

You can also pick the leaves from the herb, wash in water and dry gently. Store in plastic containers between damp paper towel. This has the advantage of reducing their bulk, so they take up less space in the fridge.